The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – 19 July 2020
Lectionary Readings: Wis 12:13, 16-19; Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16; Rom 8:26-27; Matt 13:24-43
Theme: G-d’s mercy, wisdom, and patience
Ineptitude and selfishness of public servants in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic leading to preventable deaths of thousands of people; systemic injustice perpetrated against people of color, indigenous people, LGBTQ people, and minorities; wanton disregard for the environment that causes its destruction, and in turn affects humans: wars and conflict in various parts of the world and in our own localities, most of the time waged in the name of religion are some of the crises of today which drive people to ask, “Why does G-d allow all these tragedies to happen?” The common denominator is: human choice and agency. The question now becomes, “why does G-d allow humans to do such evil things?” or, “why does G-d allow evil to thrive?”
In the first reading from the book of Wisdom, it is proclaimed that G-d is the “master of might,” yet he “judges with clemency” … “permitting repentance of sins.” His might is used not to show off or lord it over creatures, but is expressed in mercy, in allowing repentance. It is noteworthy that in the Psalm (86:15), the Psalmist addresses G-d using His thirteen attributes, which LORD proclaimed to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, as if wanting to remind G-d: “You, O LORD, are a G-d, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and fidelity.” One attribute stands out for me: ‘erek apayim’, (slow to anger) which according to Rashi refers to G-d who “defers His anger and does not hasten to punish — it may be that the sinner will repent.” Brueggemann, mentions that it is literally translated as “long-nosed” which suggests that “whatever ‘heat of rage’ there was in
G-d’s anger has a chance to cool off, as it must be breathed out of the long nostril.”
In the Gospel, Jesus offers a vivid image of the mercy of G-d: a sower, wise and patient, who allows weeds to grow along with the wheat, until the harvest time comes. In the parable, G-d’s mercy is expressed with wisdom and patience. The fact that the sower allows the weeds to grow may come from the prudent assumption that it might not be a weed. There is also wisdom in allowing them to grow alongside the wheat because one can distinguish one from the other by its fruits. In the end the wheat will be bent down with its golden grain while the weeds will remain with nothing but their leaves.
G-d’s mercy coupled with wisdom does not pull out the weeds from the soil because it is not worth it if it means risking the wheat being pulled out. A revered professor of mine, on many occasions, mentioned one of the lessons he learned: that while we so often complain about the weeds in our person, it may be that our unfreedoms or compulsions, are mysteriously tied to our virtues, the wheat. And so in G-d’s wisdom and patience, He allows the weeds in us to grow along with the wheat, that in time they may show themselves to actually be wheat. What is different with humans though, unlike weeds and wheat, is that humans are capable of changing. It may not be an overnight change, as humans take a while to change; but we are nevertheless capable for it. G-d meets us through His mercy, expressed in His wisdom and patience. Pope Francis says: “At times we are in a great hurry to judge, to categorize, to put the good here, the bad there … G-d, however, knows how to wait. With patience and mercy He gazes into the ‘field’ of the life of every person; He sees much better than we do the filth and the evil, but (G-d) also sees the seeds of good and waits with trust for them to grow. G-d is patient; (G-d) knows how to wait.”
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. How have we experienced G-d’s dealing with the “weeds” in our person? 2. How do we approach the “weeds,” evil, within ourselves? 3. How do we approach evil caused by our fellow human beings?
Bibliography: Walter Brueggemann, “The Book of Exodus,” New Interpreters’ Bible vol. 1 (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1994). Pope Francis, Angelus, St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 20 July 2014, http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2014/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20140720.html, Helen Graham, “The Lord, the Lord, Compassionate and Gracious…” (Class Handout, July 18, 2003), Rashi on Exodus 34:6, https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Exodus.34.6.3?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en.